In the Kingdom of Men

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3018094A couple of months ago I asked my mom for a book recommendation. She mentioned, In The Kingdom Of Men, by Kim Barnes. I put it on my list but didn’t think too much of it because, well, it sounded depressing. I used to be able to watch and read all sorts of depressing, dramatic movies and books. Now, I figure I can be depressed watching the news or listening to the radio instead.

Anyway, I checked out this book and another one the librarian recommended the other day. Needless to say, the librarian’s book went back and mom’s book stayed on my nightstand. Once I read the opening paragraphs, I was hooked:

“Here is the first thing you need to know about me: I’m a barefoot girl from red-dirt Oklahoma, and all the marble floors in the world will never change that.

Here is the second thing: that young woman they pulled form the Arabian shore, her hair tangled with mangrove – my husband didn’t kill her, not the way they say he did.”

Barnes takes the main character, Gin (short for Virginia), from her poor and arguably brutal and loving upbringing in Oklahoma to Saudi Arabia in 1967. The story is a captivating blend of fictional lives with a time in history on distant shores, which were undergoing such changes that have wrought, to put it mildly, challenging times in this day and age.

I don’t know why I liked this book so much. Perhaps it was the mystery behind “that young woman[‘s]” death or the history of Saudi Arabia and the oil companies that set up shop there that guided me through this story. Or it could have been because Virginia was my grandmother’s name. It certainly was not because the story was all rainbows and posies because it wasn’t. It wasn’t because there was a sense of closure at the end because really, there wasn’t. Maybe it was just Barnes’ way of telling a tale. Whatever it was, I will forever be haunted by Ginny Mae and her lost lives in Oklahoma, Saudi Arabia and Rome as she searched “to know.”

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